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Drivers Are Losing Money By Taking The Wrong Approach

Brett Aquila on Thu, July 13, 2017

Regardless of your experience level in trucking, read this and think about what I'm saying.

The first stage of learning is listening and observing. You're either reading from a manual, listening to instructions, or watching someone perform a task. I hear a lot of people say, "I learn best by doing." Well to some degree, we all do. 'Doing' is an essential step in the process, but it shouldn't be the first step.

Trucking is not something you can learn simply by observing, but a lot of people don't realize they're almost skipping this stage entirely. This doesn't just apply to new drivers. The trucking industry is loaded with experienced drivers who have failed to learn how to be successful at the highest level in this industry because they're hard headed, they think their way is the only way, and they're not learning from those who are outperforming them.

Many of you are making life more difficult on yourselves. You're preventing yourselves from making more money and having better driving skills because you aren't paying attention to the people who are more skilled, more experienced, or having more success than you are.

In other words, shut up for a minute and have a look around at the people who are outperforming you. Then you can start doing it yourself, and doing it right.

The Early Stages Of Your Career

In the beginning of your trucking career you have a particular knowledge set and a particular skill set you should be focusing on.

The knowledge part includes:

The skills will include backing, shifting, and basic driving skills, all of which will be taught to you in school and improved out on the road with a trainer.

The Biggest Problem Rookies Face

One of the biggest problems rookies face is that they come into the trucking industry with their own expectations of what they need to learn and how the training should be done. This causes a ton of grief, and in fact needlessly causes the end of a lot of careers before they even get off the ground.

Many students have their own agenda. Instead of listening to what they're being told to do, they're doing what they think they should be doing.

We recently had a visitor who had started a conversation in our trucker's forum. He was a classic example of someone who thinks they know the best course of action instead of listening to what they're being told.

He started out this conversation by saying:

I feel I will have to know everything about:

  1. Every last gauge on the truck's dash
  2. Every last idiot light on the truck's dash
  3. Every last pedal, lever and switch in the rig
  4. How the heating and air conditioner work's
  5. How the truck's radio works
  6. How to turn the lights on and off
  7. How the power inverters work
  8. How to connect the air lines to the trailer
  9. How to uncouple the tractor from the trailer
  10. How to inspect all the vehicular lights
  11. How every last piece of onboard electronic equipment works (if it even does work)

Ok, at some point sure, you're going to have to know that kind of stuff. But he's only at the stage where he's considering a career. He doesn't even know if trucking is the right career for him or not. He doesn't know the expectations and the demands of the job. He doesn't even know if he qualifies for the job in the first place. He decided on his own he knows what he needs to worry about right now.

For instance, he mentions he has an issue with heat stroke. One of our moderators, Rainy, rightfully pointed out:

Had you discussed this heat stroke thing...we could have told you right away trucking is probably not for you and you will waste the state's money. You can go to school and get a CDL , but companies probably would not hire you due to your past heat stroke issues. I just spent three days in CA/AZ in 120 degrees and just walking from the parked truck to the truck stop to use the shower was horrible. So for someone with issues, I'm sure it would be ungodly.

Obviously he should first consider whether or not he's even cut out for this career before he starts studying the various gauges and functions in a truck. So now that he knows this, he'll begin with this important step, right?

Oh heck no. Instead he'll make false assumptions and accusations:

You might be working for some mickey-mouse company with broken old-fashioned equipment. I can't imagine biggie outfits' like Swift placing their drivers in any less than late-model rigs with effective and reliable climate controls in any weather. I would stay away from little mom-and-pop outfits myself. A newer, modern truck is going to be a much more safe, comfortable and secure environment than some rig decades old for any long-haul driver. Again a good company will be conscientious about maintaining their equipment.

Oh, good call my friend. Rainy is actually working for the largest and most successful refrigerated outfit in the country driving one of the nicest rigs on the planet. This guy talks like he's giving advice to someone who is currently a trainer in this industry, and the guy has never even seen the inside of a big rig.

But the assumptions and the "know it all" attitude don't stop there. He goes on to say:

I can't imagine a big firm like Swift will require their drivers to drive "off the beaten path" across the nation away from the relative safety and security of the interstate freeway system where there is always emergency help nearby. I would only be interested in reefer/dry van/bulk tanks anyway. No liquid tanks or flatbeds for me.

Oh really??? So you think Swift Transportation only drives on the Interstates? What a ridiculous assumption. Not even close.

And of course without five minutes of experience or research on the matter he decides "I would only be interested in reefer/dry van/bulk tanks anyway. No liquid tanks or flatbeds for me."

That's funny. I drove a food grade liquid tanker for a while and I absolutely loved it. There are a long list of great advantages and interesting aspects to pulling a tanker. Not only that, but anyone with any experience in trucking knows that no one loves their job the way flatbedders do. Those guys are hardcore and most of them wouldn't dream of doing anything else.

But hey, what do we know, right? Why do the research or listen to experienced drivers when you already know it all?

I could go on all day about this guy but you can read the rest of this conversation here - and it only gets worse:

Forum Conversation: Will I Learn Everything About Every Control Inside A Truck?

The Bottom Line For Rookies

Please do not assume anything coming into this industry. The trucking industry is a strange beast. I can promise you it isn't like anything you've ever done before and you're going to be continuously surprised at the way it operates. If you come in with your own fictitious set of ideals and expectations you're going to make life miserable for yourself.

  • You're going to think you're with a lousy school or a lousy company because they don't do things the way you expect them to be done
  • You're not going to get along with the instructors or dispatch because you won't listen and do what's expected of you, and they won't tolerate people who won't listen
  • You're not going to learn the important things you need to learn to perform at a high level, turn the big miles, and make the big money like the Top Tier Drivers

So clear your mind of expectations, listen to what you're being told, do what's being expected of you, and ask a lot of questions along the way.

Your Typical Conversation With A Disgruntled Experienced Driver

Ok, it's time to get on the experienced drivers a little bit. Anyone with experience in trucking knows this industry is loaded with complainers and underperformers. There is a sizeable percentage of drivers out there who are hardheaded, belligerent, and unhappy with pretty much everything and everyone.

Some of them simply aren't cut out for trucking but they're trying to make it work. Unfortunately it's probably never going to work for them and they're never going to be happy. But many of these drivers are stepping on their own toes and won't shut up long enough or humble themselves a little so they can see they're handling things poorly and need to change their ways.

Old School, another of our moderators, is thrilled with company he works for. He gets tons of miles, drives beautiful equipment, and gets treated very well.

One day he wandered into the terminal, which he normally tries to avoid, and one of the reasons he states for that is:

What I don't enjoy about terminals is that there always seems to be a certain crowd of drivers there who enjoy commiserating together about how badly trucking has treated them. I'm sure you know the type, we call them the "Terminal Rats!"

Sometimes I would wonder, "Do these guys ever work?" It is no wonder that they have a long list of grievances about their pay. At some point in this career you have got to figure out that we get paid for our performance, and not just because we are on the payroll.

Interestingly enough I did a podcast on the subject of terminal rats:

Episode 10: Terminal Rats Are Derailing Trucking Careers - check it out.

I'm going to give some highlights of the conversation but you can read his full story and comment on it in our trucker's forum here:

Me and My Big Mouth! (How to start a fight at a terminal).

So Old School comes across a disgruntled experienced driver, a terminal rat basically, who is complaining endlessly:

"I've been sitting here at the terminal now almost long enough to get a "34" [hour reset] in... This company sucks, they just don't have the miles to give us... I'm going on a year now, and I have never even done 2,500 miles yet... I can't keep this up, I've got to find a better company that has the miles... etc., ad nauseum."

Another driver who gets great miles asks who his dispatcher is:

"Oh, it's [dispatcher's name], he spends more time trying to screw me over than he does at making any effort to get me some decent runs, I swear he tries to aggravate me with the loads he comes up with."

Old School hesitates to say anything about the fact that he's "almost always in excess of 3,000 miles on a weekly basis" but goes on to say:

After some of the others start agreeing with [the terminal rat] and say they are experiencing the same thing, the first guy that commented falls out of the conversation, because he seemed to realize, like me, that these guys just don't get it. He kind of gives me a quizzical look as If he was wondering if we were thinking the same thoughts.

This terminal rat gets on the phone with his dispatcher and says, to paraphrase:

"Can't you find something better than that! I'm not going to do that run, it would be impossible for me to get that done by Tuesday morning before the payroll cut-off. I need some money on this week's check. I told you that already and here you go and come up with a 1600 mile run! Why can't you ever get me something like this when I need it? Now when I'm just wanting something to get me by until payday you try to get me to jump over the moon for you, well I'm not your puppet man! You can give that to some fool who thinks he just has to take everything you tell him - I'm going to be right here waiting for you to come up with something I can finish by Tuesday morning, or better yet Monday morning just to be on the safe side - I've got to have some money now! I can't be stretching this pay period over into the next week - I've got bills to pay now. What is it about my situation that you just can't seem to understand?"

....and then "slams his phone to the table and starts bragging to the others about how he is just not gonna take this crap. They're gonna have to come up with something better than that if they want him to take it!"

Old School made a valiant attempt to explain kindly to this driver how he could have made that 1600 mile run, but the driver jumped on Old School the way he did his dispatcher and let Old School know that "anytime he needed some advice from a 'super trucker' he would ask for it!"

Again, you can read and comment on this conversation here: Me and My Big Mouth! (How to start a fight at a terminal)

Where Experienced Drivers Go Wrong

There are several things about the trucking industry that some of you experienced drivers don't seem to understand so I'm going to lay it out here for you.

Quit Being A Jerk

Seriously, you're a jerk and you know it. See, you're even smiling right now, aren't you? You're costing yourself a lot of money thinking you can lay down the law and tell people off all the time. You can't scare anyone into listening to you because you have no authority other than the decision to drive that truck or not.

You can't control dispatch, the shipping clerks, the DOT officers, or the waitress at the truck stop. By being a loudmouth jerk you're making people want to go out of their way to get back at you. Without any authority in any matters you're an easy target. Everyone knows the expression, "You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar". Unless you enjoy sitting around going broke while your peers fill their pockets with cash, wake up and change your attitude.

Do The Dirty Work And Don't Complain About It

Every driver out there has to do some dirty work once in a while. I know you've been driving for five or ten years, but all of the freight has to get moved and sometimes you're the one in the perfect position to move that 300 mile run to Jersey you detest.

Another expression you've heard, "Pay It Forward", applies here. Do that lousy run without complaint and then let dispatch know it's time to throw you a bone. You may have to do another lousy run right away first. Who knows? But if you'll Pay It Forward you can be certain that dispatch will reward you in kind with some big, fat, sweet run to Texas or Florida.

A lot of drivers think, "I've been out here a long time. I've paid my dues. I'm not doing the grunt work anymore." Well you have to realize that if dispatch piles all of the grunt work on their newer drivers they'll never keep any of these newer drivers. They have to spread the love around a little bit. You can be certain you'll get the great miles you deserve, but doing some grunt work once in a while will always be part of the job. Any driver who gets treated great and consistently gets top miles is doing grunt work once in a while.

Stop Being Late

I know, you're on time most of the time. Well that's simply not good enough. Either your company can count on you to get the job done or they can't. There's really no middle ground. Get to all of your appointments on time and stop making excuses.

There are plenty of drivers who can go an entire year without being late to one single appointment, and they're facing the same traffic and weather and exhausting schedule that you are. The difference is in the standards they set for themselves. You think it's ok to be on time 90% of the time and they won't settle for less than 100% on time service. That's why they're getting 3,000 miles a week and you're getting 2,200.

When a critical load from a critical customer becomes available you're simply not going to get it. You're going to get that 300 mile run to Jersey you can't stand while they're going to get that important load that has to be on time going to Texas.

100% on time with all appointments. That's the standard Top Tier Drivers set for themselves. Get on board with that or get left behind.

The Bottom Line For All Drivers

Listen, there are drivers out there that we refer to as "Top Tier Drivers" here at TruckingTruth. These drivers:

  • Turn big miles consistently
  • Get pre-planned on loads regularly
  • Always make their appointments on time
  • Get along well with dispatch
  • Drive beautiful equipment
  • Get all kinds of special favors from the company

If you want to be part of this group you have to step up your game. If you're a rookie, strive for perfection in everything you do. You'll almost never reach that level of performance, but you'll come darn close if you never stop reaching.

If you're an experienced driver and you're not getting the great miles and special favors you expect then it's time to wake up and realize you're stepping on your own toes. Learn to get along well with people and learn to work through problems instead of just screaming demands at people.

I realize a lot of people are cynical toward the office personnel but you really are all on the same team. Everyone wins when the trucks keep those wheels turning. If you want your share of the miles you have to earn them, regardless of how long you've been driving. That means doing some of the dirty work once in a while.

Be on time with your loads. Do some dirty work once in a while. And seriously, quit complaining and quit being a jerk. It will make a huge difference in your wallet at the end of the week.

Live long and prosper!

Tagged Under:

Advice For New Truck Drivers Becoming A Truck Driver Dealing With The Boss Dispatcher Issues Driver Responsibilities First Solo Months On The Road Hard Lessons Learned Truck Driver Salary Truck Driver Training

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TruckingTruth was founded by Brett Aquila (that's me!), a 15 year truck driving veteran, in January 2007. After 15 years on the road I wanted to help people understand the trucking industry and everything that came with the career and lifestyle of an over the road trucker. We'll help you make the right choices and prepare for a great start to your trucking career.

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